Today this journey turned from a necessary drive through unknown territory into an adventure, as it usually does around the Rockies. Left Bowman, still in shock by how there is absolutely nothing in North Dakota(no trees, no towns, no mountains, no NOTHING!!!). Destination was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Its location in the middle of nowhere and natural grasslands give it a reputation for a good place to spot wildlife. The Badlands terrain was supposed to be stunning as well. There is a scenic drive through both parts of the park(there is a north and south unit), so I figured it would be a cool side trip, get to see some badlands, maybe see a deer or something.
The park was empty(imagine that, the closest major place is probably Yellowstone…T.R.N.P. is 300 miles away and probably not on most peoples itinerary). The speed limit is 25 on the scenic route, so Irie and I started creeping down the road scanning for wildlife. Not more than 5 minutes past the visitor center and I came around a bend to find 4 or 5 freaking buffalos chilling next to the road!!! I was freaking out!! I was kindof scared shitless(thanks to that State Farm commercial), but obviously stoked. It was almost like seeing a dinosaur, to be honest I didn’t even know these guys still existed in the wild. They are HUGE, built like furry tanks. And they were every where, around any bend you might have to hit the breaks and wait for one of them to lumber across the road. Plenty of photo ops, but I was too much of a puss to get out of the car(I locked the doors every time I got close to one…why?), and even if they looked at me too long I was out! But my heart was pumping, and I was wooping and hollering at Irie after every herd.
Oh yeah, the terrain was cool, and saw some longhorns on my way out. Sorry cows and rocks….buffalo are way cooler..
Inevitably, after seeing the great bison in its natural habitat, I had a craving to eat its brethren in burger form. It was this craving that shaped the rest of the day. If you know me you’re probably thinking “bad vegetarian!”, and to that I say “suck it!”. I’m sure I could’ve had another Veggie Delight from Subway or some pretzels for dinner, but when I think of unique food from this region I think bison(…and elk which hopefully I’ll find tomorrow). When I’m in Argentina I want to try the beef, when I’m in Colorado I want green chili, and when I’m in Spain I want paella. If I lived out here on a farm I probably wouldn’t be veggie, and while I’m here I want to sample whatever I can that embodies the region’s good eats. So suck it. Anyway…..I stopped at every exit with civilization, from Medora, ND to Custer MT with no luck. Everywhere that might have had a freshly made bison burger was closed or non-existent. Eventually my search led me to Billings, Montana, and thank god it did. Off exit 452(Rt 90), on 6th street, nestled in a random industrial seeming area was Cafe Decamp. What a find! Cool, hippy/hipster/foodie staff(cook, waitron, other guy), all locally sourced ingredients(including local beers and wines), cozy and goddamn delicious. Here is how the menu described the bison burger_
Lean, grass-fed, MT raised Bison, Sharp White Cheddar, wildly delicious house made Flathead Cherry BBQ sauce, Mustard Greens & Shallot rings on toasted Focaccia with house-cut Mt Potato Fries. Add fried Egg for 1.00 Add Bacon for 1.50
Doesn’t mention the homemade “bloody mary ketchup(chef’s name)” for the fries. I would’ve drank it by the pint. They were stoked that I was a vegetarian traveling from NYC to San Diego and housing their bison burger. Right before I left I noticed they had a black bean bison chili as a special. I asked for a taste, loved it and they sold me all the rest they had for the price of one bowl(they were about to close). So now I have 6 bowls of bison chili on ice in a styrofoam cooler to sustain me for the rest of my trip(my car smells awesome!). If I don’t kill it all over the next couple days and you are anywhere between Portland and San Diego you might be able to pry a bowl off my hands.
Mañana, Portland or bust. I might putz around Montana a little, we’ll see. At the moment I’ve loved my time up here in big sky country, but looking forward to the next unchartered territory, the Pacific Northwest.